“Okay – you win!” Sweep has waged a cunning plan and has finally won the war of attrition – twice! Some while ago, Sweep ate tins of cat food and had pouches as a special treat. He decided he didn’t like the tins, and so systematically refused to eat them. Eventually I calculated he could eat pouches for not much more than the cans, so I relented; he is 12 after all, a fair old age for a cat. Each day as I gave him just pouches, he purred with pleasure. I gave the remaining tins away, and Sweep prospered. About 4 months later, Sweep stopped eating his pouches. He left them in the bowl, begged for another, and we were back to the old game.
“I’m not throwing away expensive pouches – if we’re playing this game again, we’re going back to playing it with tinned food!” So I bought a small number of tins; the next time he refused his pouch, when it had been down long enough, I replaced it with a can. He ate it at speed – and purred! He started holding out more and more, each time a pouch had been put down, and eating the canned food with pleasure. So I bought more canned food, and gave the pouches a rest. I waited a month and tried a pouch – once seen as a prized treat – only to have it refused outright. Back to the cans, and these prove the prize for which he is holding out. I tried again a month later, and he was having none of it. So I have a large pile of pouches, a stack of tins, and a cat who thinks he has successfully compelled me to give him exclusively the cheaper food – there’s no fooling Sweep – he has his cherished prize.
As I write, we have just had the New Year’s Honours list released, followed by the list of those who refused an honour in previous years, and then the debacle of Bankers’ bonuses and whether they should keep their prize, not to mention whether the former chief of RBS should keep his knighthood. So much ink is spilt over these transitory prizes, and too many spend restless nights hoping they might awake pointless knights – honours which seem all too often to grace the already financially and otherwise well rewarded stage and sport personalities, businessmen and spent politicians, dwarfing the small number of deserving voluntary workers. You are left wondering for whom is the pointless honour awarded – the recipient or the ruling politician seeking to identify with some form of success? No wonder people like L.S. Lowry had the integrity to refuse the ‘honour’. We strive and connive for the most ephemeral of prizes, which can never bring lasting satisfaction.
One of the sentences at the start of the funeral service reads “We brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Timothy 6.7) In physical terms, it is clearly true (“No pockets in shrouds”), but I’m always reminded that we do take the reputation we have earned with us – for good or for bad. The opportunities to make a good reputation are the same for all of us – the opportunity to share, to give, to love those around us, the opportunities to live according to Christ’s example and discipleship. It is worth remembering that he received no honours or prizes, never left the small country in which he lived, never held high position or rank, yet consider the impact he has had on the world at large. The prize and honour for a life lived before the face of God is the prize that stays, an everlasting honour. Surprisingly, many of us put very little effort into obtaining this everlasting prize.
St Paul exhorts us “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever…I beat my body and make it my slave so that… I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9.25, 27). On Ash Wednesday (22nd February), many churches, including ours, will be open all day for prayer – a good time to reflect, to positively choose to strive and train for the unchanging and everlasting prize. Ash Wednesday is the gateway to Lent, 40 days of preparation before the joy of Easter, traditionally a time to look at our service and ministry, and to seek God’s guidance in our lives, that we may be redirected aright in His path that leads to life everlasting, a prize and honour worth receiving indeed.
Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus the purpose and point of life, peace and joy in serving him, and the prize of everlasting life with him at the end.
Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ